Once again, I am sitting here broken-hearted. Our sweet old girl, Sontaya, who’s health had started to decline in recent weeks, has passed away.
Sontaya was such a gentle, sweet and loving soul. Her wisdom and grace, radiated from her beautiful, wrinkled (and hairy) face and everyone who had the honour of being in her presence, fell deeply in love with her.
We rescued Sontaya from a busy tourist camp in Pattaya, back in May 2016. Sontaya was thin and spent her days walking in circles, carrying heavy tourists on her protruding back bone. The nights did not provide much relief for Sontaya, as she was tied to a stake in the ground, on a very short chain, surrounded by piles of trash and burning dung and nothing to stare at but the numerous building sites and skyscrapers that litter the city of Pattaya.
When we were contacted by the owners, it was clear that they loved her very much and wanted to do the right thing by Sontaya and retire her to BLES. We set about raising the funds and over 300 people donated towards saving Sontaya – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/sontaya-needs-saving/
The elephant world was smitten with Sontaya and her rescue was a huge celebration – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/sontaya-is-home/
Sontaya was with us for five months. One of the hardest realities that BLES has to come to terms with every time we rescue an elderly elephant, is that they probably will not be with us for very long. This is exactly why we are 100% committed to ensuring every single day that passes, is filled with freedom, friendship, peace, respect and love.
Every single day with Sontaya was a gift.
Once again, we have been reminded that it isn’t about the length of time the elephants have with us… The most important thing, is that they are with us. That they get to live at least a small part of their life as they always should have. That they get to rediscover themselves and know what it is to be an elephant before they leave this world. This world, that has done so wrong by them… BLES is a sanctuary, but it is also my apology to the elephants. The first thing I say to an elephant that we find working in the tourism industry is, “I am so sorry” I founded BLES because I wanted to represent the human race and show the elephants how incredibly sorry we were for all we had done to them – snatching them from the wild, breaking their spirits, putting them to work, exploiting them and grinding them to death – just to name a few of the shameful things humans have done to elephants over the years….
I had been away from BLES for two days on business and on the morning I was due back, I had frantic messages from Sontaya’s mahout, Dom, asking me to call. I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong with Sontaya and jumped in the car and started driving home. I spoke to David and Phi Sot, who said through tears, that Sontaya was weak and clearly letting go. I burst in to tears, told the driver to hurry and started praying for Sontaya.
As soon as I arrived at BLES, I went to Sontaya’s side. She was lying peacefully on the grass and there were no signs of her being stressed or struggling. The mahouts had rigged up some shade for her and I sat with her, rubbing my hands over her hollow temples, her kind face and down her soft trunk, whispering to her to let go. I told her how loved she was, how sorry I was and told her again, to let go… Sontaya took a deep breath and then did just that – she let go.
We were all with her when she passed. Dom, her devoted and now heartbroken mahout, Phi Sot, our head mahout, David, my assistant and myself – we sat on the grass, surrounded by nature, surrounding Sontaya with as much love and respect as we could. She left this world knowing she was adored and appreciated and I think that is what we would ask for in our final moments of life.
Sontaya has been buried on the hill, behind Naamfon and Sao Noi. We sprinkled flowers petals in to her grave and over her body and Dom laid out an elaborate fruit feast for our darling Sontaya.
The funeral was so moving and so fitting for our sweet old girl. As the monks chanted, our tears were kissed in sympathy by raindrops. As I sat, breathing in the smell of the rain, I closed my eyes and visualised Sontaya walking through the thick, long grass before us. Despite my tears and my heartache, I smiled, because at long last, Sontaya was truly free.
Walk on Sontaya: Walk through the fields and forests and be free. Thank you for allowing us to be just a small piece of your long life. We will love you forever and I will think of you everyday, until the day we are reunited, as I watch the sunset over BLES.
Sleep well sweet girl… Sweet dreams Sontaya xx